Pakistan's Establishment Versus Dissenters: UK Begins Historical Trial
The trial in London is going to be watched with some trepidation from Islamabad, & huge hope by overseas Pakistanis.
This is for those who like to curl up with an Agatha Christie or Edgar Allan Poe at bedtime, except that the murderer is known from the start, which is rather a spoiler. But it's set in foreign parts, and there are mysterious deaths, not to mention another prospective victim, who was set upon, but survived to tell the tale.
This is about Ahmed Waqass Goraya, a blogger and rights activist, and others like him, who defied the Pakistani state and had to flee for their lives. The trial of his would-be murderer began in London this week, and it is a historic one, since it will decide whether British justice will prevail or British insecurity.
The Setting of a Murder Planned
Ahmed Waqass Goraya lived in Pakistan, and ran a blog “Running Mochi’, which was blatantly anti-establishment, though not anti-Pakistan. There’s a difference, though the boys in khaki may not acknowledge it. In 2017, he together with five other bloggers were picked up on a complaint of blashphemy which is punishable by death in Pakistan.
Luckily, the Pakistani justice system at the time, was still up and running, and Goraya was freed after 24 days, though he alleges that he was tortured severely. He now lives in Rotterdam, from where he continued his exposes of the Pakistani establishment.
In February 2021, Goraya was warned by Dutch police that his life was in danger, and sure enough Muhammad Gohir Khan, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, travelled to Rotterdam to spy out his home.
The same month, he was beaten up and threatened at his home. In June, Gohir was arrested by Scotland Yard working together with Dutch authorities.
The trial date for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) versus Muhammad Gohir Khan has been set for Jan 11, 2022 with the trial expected to last two weeks. The point is this. While the British are not likely to take kindly to any ISI antics using British citizens, they also have a close intelligence relationship with the ISI, that provides them some early warning of possible terror attacks by Pakistanis.
Don’t forget that most of UK's serious terrorist attacks have been carried out by ethnic Pakistanis radicalised after their travel back ‘home’. The conviction of Gohir as an ISI-mandated assassin could plug the flow of intelligence to the UK authorities. That’s dangerous, especially when some of these terrorists are being launched as ‘lone wolves’ with entirely unknown associations; possibly via sub state actors.
Mysterious Murders of Pakistani Journalists and Bloggers
While this particular attack seems to have boomeranged, others have been extremely slick. Take for instance, the death of Sajjid Hussain, editor of “Baloch Times’, which was one of the few outlets that faithfully reported on Baloch disappearances. Hussain also fled Pakistan for Sweden in 2018, and was in the process of bringing his family to join him, even wihle he was to start a post graduate degree at the University of Uppsala. After speaking to his wife, he took a train for Uppsala and went missing. His body was found in a river months later, with the Swedish police unable to establish murder, though suicide was unbecoming given the circumstances.
That was followed by the equally strange and rather similar death of Karima Baloch, whose body was found floating in Lake Toronto. Karima was the first female chair of the Baloch Students Organisation. She was well known for her efforts to get women—long sidelined in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran—to educate themselves, and join the political struggle.
She had received innumerable threats, and her uncle back home was killed, and her home raided. The fact that the place where her body was found, had waist high railings, doesn’t seem to point to accident. The identity of the real perpetrator was apparent when her body was brought home.
Her hometown in Baluchistan was put under curfew, paramilitary forces were called, mobile services suspended, and the body itself whisked away by authorities, all to prevent thousands from turning up for her funeral.
Then, there are several stringent critics of the military, all of whom are in danger and have received death threats.
Bludgeoning ofGutsy Pakistan Media
The Guardian covers the cases of Gul Bukhari, a YouTuber and columnist; Taha Siddiqi, an award winning journalist, victim of an attempted abduction who had to take safety guidance from the British police; scholar Ayesha Siddiqa, and many others living in Europe, who have received death threats not only to themselves, but also to their families back home.
'Reporters Without Borders' also observed that Pakistani journalists in Europe were being threatened by Pakistan’s intelligence service.
It’s a harrowing experience. And you cant come home. Journalist back in Pakistan have fared worse. Well known courageous journalists like Saleem Shehzad whose story on the links between Al Qaeda and the Pakistan navy was probably what cost him his life, when his body was found with marks of torture after his abduction from the heart of Isalamabad.
The message has been received. Even as newspapers like the Dawn and Jang have been threatened, and in the latter case the owner arrested, the traditionally gutsy Pak media is showing signs of wear and tear.
None of this is to say that journalists in India or Bangladesh face no dangers to their lives. Bangladesh saw a four-year-long orgy of killings of bloggers, professors, Hindus and anyone who showed ‘secular’ beliefs. But these were the work of extremist militants, such as a former Major Syed Zia ul Haq, who lead the group that killed author Avijit Roy.
India has detailed what it calls Naxal sympathisers, including Father Stan Swamy, all of 84 years old who died in prison.
Sri Lanka has its share of murdered journalists, but no other South Asian country has to launch such deadly overseas operations that outshine the rather messy operations by the Russians against their dissenters, or even the witch hunt by Washington against Julian Assange.
Meanwhile, the trial is going to be watched with some trepidation from Islamabad, and huge hope by overseas Pakistanis hoping to be able to live a normal life. It’s a grim choice for the UK; a delivery of justice or a sagging at the knees.
(Dr Tara Kartha is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS). She tweets @kartha_tara. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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